3. 1962: 4-6 (2-6)
Joining Johnny Majors to be on the list twice is Bowden Wyatt, whose best season with Tennessee football ironically came when Majors was his star tailback in 1956 and he went 10-1 and won the SEC Championship. However, six years later, the program had taken a turn for the worst.
By this point, the single-wing that the Vols identified with dating back to Robert Neyland’s first season in 1926 and was run by him and four of his proteges, W.H. Britton, John Barnhill, Harvey Robinson and Wyatt, was becoming outdated. UT had a losing record in 1958, went 5-4-1 in 1959 and was coming off a 6-4 season in 1961.
It all fell apart in 1964. The Vols lost their first two games by one point each to the Auburn Tigers and Mississippi State Bulldogs. They were then shut out 17-0 by the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets before losing to 27-7 to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Sure, the 0-4 start included three teams that finished with winning records and two that finished in the top 15, but panic mode set in.
Wins over the Chattanooga Mocs, Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Tulane Green Wave did nothing to fix the issue, as one doesn’t even play FBS, and the other two went winless that year. A 19-6 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels, who would go 10-0 that year, made it worse.
However, the telling loss was the next week, as they fell 12-10 to the Kentucky Wildcats, who had gone 3-5-2 that year. Even beating the Vanderbilt Commodores 30-0 to end the season didn’t fix this issue, as they were 1-9 on the year, their only win coming against Tulane.
Simply put, UT lost to two teams that finished with winning records and didn’t beat any team with a winning record. Three of the four teams they beat went a combined 1-29 on the year, and the other was Chattanooga. It was a bad team. Bowden was gone after the year ended, and so was the Neyland era. It was time to move on.